Helping Nonprofits Thrive

Welcome to Helping Nonprofits Thrive. This weekly newsletter provides practical tools and a bit of theory to strengthen your inclusive leadership skills. Building inclusive and engaging practices that permeate every dimension of your nonprofit helps you stride toward the dream of diversity: better thinking, better results, and a better world.

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60 Minute Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Retreat: Inviting Creative Destruction to Make Space for Innovation

You can launch or revitalize your nonprofit’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through a 60-minute retreat that can:

  • Enroll all stakeholders in exploring the implications of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Use a combination of small group and whole group sessions that embody inclusion.
  • Name unproductive practices that undermine diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Invite retreat participants to imagine bold steps that embody diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 All Stakeholders Need to be on Deck

First, let’s recognize that systemic change is hard. Make it easier by widening the level of participation in your change initiative. Every stakeholder needs to have skin in the game. The more the merrier. With broader participation, greater buy-in will result. If you believe in inclusivity, embody it in whom you invite to the retreat—every stakeholder. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” If only your senior staff, board of directors and your DEI council engage in the DEI retreat, then everyone else will yawn at your grand plans. Inclusion means inclusion: front-line employees, managers and executives, board members, volunteers, funders, community supporters, most importantly, your customers. Diversity is the spice of life.  Embody it.

Meeting Design: TRIZ

Next, use a powerful and inclusive meeting design: TRIZ. Inspired by Russian engineers after World War II, TRIZ helps organizations stop counterproductive behaviors and activities to make space for innovation. TRIZ is an acronym for “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.” Its magic is that it gives permission for groups to think counter-intuitively. Heretical thinking is not shunned but encouraged. The best part of TRIZ is, it’s a lot of fun. So, when addressing diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, give yourself permission to imagine the most exclusive behaviors possible. The more outrageous the better.

Here’s How the DEI Retreat Works

First, collect your group whether meeting virtually or in-person. Welcome everyone. Use an icebreaker to get into the spirit of the occasion.  If you have time, use the Walk of Privilege either online or in-person to build awareness of DEI values. Then outline the following design:

Everyone will engage in conversation for three rounds.

  1. In the first round, you will be asked to make a list of all you and your organization can do to make sure that you achieve the worst results imaginable with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  2. Next, go down the list item by item and ask yourself, “Is there anything that we are currently doing that in any way, shape or form resembles this item?” Be specific and brutally honest. No holds barred.
  3. Go through the items on the second list and decide what first steps will help you stop what you know creates undesirable results. This is the generative, envisioning stage.

After the summary, launch three rounds of conversation.

First Round

The first round begins with a question that is counter-intuitive and clearly not politically correct:

Name everything you, personally, and our organization can do together to make sure you achieve the worst possible results relative to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.

Write down your thoughts as individuals (1 min), then form pairs and share ideas (3 min), then in groups of four share (6 min). Notice commonalities. Build and strengthen ideas.  Then as a whole group, quickly report out the themes and ideas that emerged (5 min). This process is known as 1-2-4-All.

In this first round you are giving permission to name what needs to be stopped or changed to advance a positive vision. The exercise encourages courageous, honest conversation in a fun, disruptive way.

Collect the egregious behaviors on a white board for all to see. For example:

  • Make sure that decisions made at the top are roundly ignored by everyone charged with implementing the decisions.
  • Reward only the verbally aggressive and the culturally dominant.
  • Ignore the insights of introverts.
  • Make sure unconscious bias in hiring drives who is hired.
  • Use trainings that have been proven again and again to never change behavior.
  • Adopt DEI statements and do nothing else.
  • Make sure leaders use command and control to demand allegiance to the company’s DEI values while underlings stay passive.

Second Round

Using 1-2-4-All format as above, pose the following question: “What are we currently doing anything that in any way, shape, or form resembles this item?’ Be brutally honest in making a second list of your counterproductive activities, behaviors, and procedures. Again, write down thoughts individually– 1 min; discuss in pairs – 3 min; then foursomes – 6 min; then whole group – 5 min).

Third Round

For the final round, ask a question such as, “If our success was absolutely, completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose to become a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization?”

This question engages everyone in developing what become key themes or goals in your DEI plan. Again, use the 1-2-4-All format. Post the goals or priorities on a virtual or in-person white board.

Conclusion and Follow-up: Create a business plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization.

Commission a working group to refine the ideas from the DEI Retreat into a clear, concise, and task-oriented DEI plan. Use SMART Goals for your framework. Gussy up the report, add cool graphics and print on glossy paper. Post it on your website. Blog about it. Read it when on-boarding new employees. Refer to it in meetings. Post it in gathering places. Make it central to your organization’s life so every employee, supporter, and volunteer knows of your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and the plans to make diversity a lived reality. Evaluate steps toward implementation every quarter. Renew the plan every two years, minimum.

About Mark Smutny and Civic Reinventions

I’m a nonprofit consultant, professional facilitator, diversity and inclusion specialist, webinar and workshop leader, author and Founder of Civic Reinventions, Inc. I work with nonprofits in human services, health and wellness, transportation, affordable housing, homelessness services, business and residents’ associations, civic advocacy, and faith-based organizations. I facilitate planning retreats and strategic plans and lead workshops and webinars that teach inclusive meeting practices rooted in the values of empathy, social justice, and the dignity of all.

My book, Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings, 2nd ed., provides powerful tools to hear all voices and perspectives for greater productivity and mission success.

Subscribe to Helping Nonprofits Thrive and receive a weekly newsletter with tips and techniques for building inclusive practices into your nonprofit that strengthen cohesion, focus strategy, and improve mission success. You can also book an appointment with me (the first 30 minutes are free).  You can also send me an email Tell me about a challenge you are facing, a pain point, or a story of success. I will answer each inquiry personally.